The five-domains update

Sea state

The Japanese coast guard has recommended charging a US Navy officer with negligent homicide. The recommendation comes 8 months after a collision at sea between USS Fitzgerald and container ship ACX Crystal in Japanese waters. The coast guard also recommended charging the Crystal’s second officer with ‘causing death and injury through negligence in the pursuit of social activities’. Seven American sailors died in the collision.

Qatar has ordered nine new offshore patrol vessels for its coast guard. The order is for three 48-metre vessels and six 24-metre vessels from Turkey’s Ares Shipyard. This is the second large order Qatar has placed with the Turkish manufacturer, having ordered 17 boats for the Qatar Coast and Borders Security Department in 2014. The nine new vessels are expected to be delivered by 2020.

China is planning to develop a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier as part of an ambitious military modernisation program. In a revealing news release, state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) said that it must ‘speed up key breakthroughs such as the realisation of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, new-style nuclear submarines, quiet submarines and unmanned intelligent underwater defense systems’. CISC later removed all mention of nuclear-powered vessels from its website.

Flight path

Last week India hosted the air forces of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and the UAE in a five-day multilateral air force exercise. The exercise simulated a tsunami response in India and aimed at improving multinational coordination in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations in Southeast Asia. It’s hoped that such exercises will lead to better HADR air operations.

Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of intent to purchase 48 Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role fighter jets from the United Kingdom. The deal has been in the works since 2014, but has been slowed by negotiations about how much of the raw materials and services Saudi Arabia would provide for the project. Saudi Arabia’s aspirations to rapidly expand its local defence industry have been hampered by shortages in qualified and experienced Saudi contractors.

Declassified videos of US aircraft encountering unidentified flying objects (UFOs) has raised questions about aliens on Earth. One former Pentagon official has criticised the US Defense Department’s failure to investigate UFO reports made by different agencies. However, debunking website Metabunk argued that the footage gives the illusion of speed, but that the UFO was more likely a slow-moving object like a bird or a balloon. Disappointed alien enthusiasts may be better off looking to the stars for signs of extraterrestrial life.

Rapid fire

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that British troops will be vaccinated against anthrax. The secretary also revealed plans for a new £48 million chemical weapons defence centre. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer of the UK’s Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment, warned that these measures show that the chemical weapons taboo is breaking down.

The UAE will train Somaliland security forces as part of an agreement to build a military base near Berbera, Somaliland. The training exercise is seen as a confidence-building mechanism to ensure that the military base proceeds. Somalia banned a separate UAE port project constructed in Berbera. Berbera sits in a strategic position less than 300 kilometres south of Yemen, where the UAE has committed troops to the Saudi-backed coalition.

Concerns earlier this month that Mali’s security situation is deteriorating have been followed by an announcement that Canada will commit peacekeepers to Mali. An aviation task force of up to 250 troops will deploy for up to 12 months. It will be Canada’s first peacekeeping mission in Africa in over a decade. Its troops were stationed in Ethiopia and Eritrea until 2003. The deployment will help fulfil Canada’s promise to fortify existing peacekeeping efforts, made at the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference in Vancouver last year.

Zero gravity

US space warfighting forces aren’t prepared to counter other countries’ evolving space warfare capabilities according to former senior US defence official Douglas Loverro. Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, Loverro raised concerns that US leadership and capabilities in space warfighting are being ‘actively and aggressively challenged’. Loverro said other nations realise the importance of space systems to the US military and economy.

Although Europe didn’t feature as a potential challenger to the US space system in the Armed Services Committee’s hearings, Oxford University researcher Nayaf Al-Rodhan argues that the European Space Agency (ESA) could provide a good framework for the development of a world space agency.

After various speculations about if and when China’s Tiangong-1 space station will plummet back into the earth’s atmosphere, ESA’s Space Debris Office said that we can expect it to fall back to earth in about two to three weeks. Tiangong-1 was China’s very first space station. It was launched in 2011 but Chinese authorities admitted they had lost control of it in 2016.

Wired watchtower

Australia and ASEAN nations have agreed to deepen their cooperation on cybersecurity and digital trade at the Australia–ASEAN Special Summit. The Sydney Declaration outlines the importance of tackling cybersecurity for the region’s prosperity. ASEAN–Australia cyber cooperation—one of 16 initiatives established during the summit—aims to ‘harness the opportunities that cyberspace enables, promote peace and stability in cyberspace, and guard against growing threats online’.

Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission used blockchain to tally votes for Sierra Leone’s general election on 7 March. Over 400,000 ballots from Sierra Leone’s Western District, which includes the capital, Freetown, were stored. The system recorded anonymised ballots  in real time on blockchain, which were then available for anyone to review, count and validate. It’s a world first and heralds improved transparency and reduced suspicion of corruption.

India hosted the two-day Asia–Pacific Regional Conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Leaders from police organisations in 15 states, including Australia, attended to discuss cybercrime and terrorism. Social media was singled out by India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, as a serious challenge to policing, referring to the 2013 riots in Uttar Pradesh that were incited by a fake video clip, and to reports of a ‘mass exodus’ of people from north-eastern India who had been living in Bangalore.